Who hasn’t been served a couple slices of rye holding pale, tasteless tomatoes, what looks to be six inches of equally pale lunch meat and a perfunctory swab of mustard? The heart sinks at this purely utilitarian assembly. But New York has a knack for its Jewish delis and its denizens are loyal to the ones they love; it’s an important relationship. Start yours here. – Anna Van Lenten
2nd Avenue Deli
162 East 33rd Street
New York, NY 10016
The pastrami and corn beef here are tender, moist, salty-right. If you’re a real fresser, get the pastrami with chopped liver! The pickles are great, as is the potato salad. If you’ve never had matzoh ball soup, try it here and see what all the fuss is about. If you’re in the mood, the hush puppies are super tasty.
352 Roebling Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Check your flesh at the door, where a sign warns, “No shorts or short sleeves allowed,” then surrender to the extremely perfect pastrami, which also comes in the form of an eggroll and knish. Chicken liver plates are sumptuous, the mushroom and barley soup generous and filling. Be adventurous and order a small plate of chulent (beef, barley, potatoes, onions, and beans all mixed up) with a bowl of the wonderful chicken soup.
205 East Houston Street
New York, NY 10002
Two must-haves at this New York institution: Corned beef sandwich on rye (fresh pickl-ish meat, fresh rye bread, mustard and mayo)-simple and delicious. And pastrami: the best pastrami this side of heaven: salty, smoky, spicy, beef-y. Everything else pales in comparison, though die-hards insist on a plate of pickles to accompany things. Katz’s also preserves an important, all-too-rare deli tradition: they cut your meat by hand, giving it a chunkiness you just can’t get from a machine.
Mill Basin Kosher Delicatessen
5823 Avenue T
Standout staples of this knockout deli include its smoky spicy pastrami, tangy rich corn beef, chicken, matzoh ball and pea soups, garlic and half sour pickles, slaw, and macaroni salad. Notable too are the latke chips: thinly sliced latkes are fried cracker-crisp and wonderful.
Sarge’s New York Delicatessen
548 3rd Avenue
New York, NY 10016
If there’s a brain center for a Reuben sandwish—then Sarge’s would hit all its spots: salt, fat, vinegar, cream, cheese, garlic, and beef. The pastrami is outstanding and the matzoh ball soup delicately excellent. Pickles (briny & garlic), classic cole slaw, and a slice of fluffy Challah bread with a giant scoop of chopped liver should be accompanied by cholesterol meds.